Arrest of paediatrician and human rights activist Binayak Sen
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The Lancet, 30 June 2007
-- By Anand Zachariah and Sara Bhattacharji
We are writing to make known to the international medical community the shocking imprisonment of Binayak Sen on May 14, 2007, in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh. A well known paediatrician and public-health specialist, Sen's is a rare example of the cost of involvement in civil rights activism by physicians. He is being charged by the local police with illicit communication with Maoists in custody.
After a distinguished academic career at Christian Medical College, Vellore, during his undergraduate and postgraduate training, Sen joined the faculty of the Centre for Social Medicine and Public Health at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi (1976–78).
For the past 30 years, Sen has been developing models of primary health in Madhya Pradesh and subsequently in the new state of Chhattisgarh. He is well known for setting up a self-funded cooperative hospital for mine workers, the Shaheed hospital, and he had a significant role in evolving the statewide “Mitanin” programme of training community health workers. In 2004, the Christian Medical College conferred on him the Paul Harrison Award—the highest recognition accorded to an alumnus for distinguished work in rural areas.
Apart from these socially relevant health-care activities, what sets Sen apart has been his deep commitment to the defence of civil liberties, including fact-finding missions into human rights violations such as custodial deaths, extra-judicial killings by state police, and hunger deaths in remote and politically turbulent communities. In recent times, he has worked ceaselessly to focus national and international attention on large-scale oppression and malgovernance within the Salwa Judoom (which has become a kind of non-state militia) in the Dantewara district of Chhattisgarh. He has given leadership to the nationwide People's Union for Civil Liberties as General Secretary in Chhattisgarh and as Vice President at the national level.
Sen is a man of impeccable integrity, self-denial, and peace who has worked steadfastly for the rights and wellbeing of ordinary people, particularly the tribals. We feel that the allegations of unlawful activities on his part are aimed at silencing an inconvenient voice in defence of the oppressed.
The Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005, under which he is imprisoned, permits arbitrary detention with no remedy of appeal or review for a maximum period of imprisonment of 7 years for any expression or act which the state may deem as disturbing public order. The repressive features of this law make us concerned about his safety and wellbeing.
We urge the international medical community to raise their voice to demand the release of this distinguished doctor and civil rights activist.
We are colleagues of Binayak Sen.